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Adam Interviews...Astrid VJ!


Well, well, well.

Who would've expected this?

It's Monday - again!

That means I have another amazing author for you to get to know!


Today, we're thrilled to have a very special guest, Astrid V.J., a USA Today Bestselling author and a recipient of the Literary Classics award. Originally from South Africa and now living in Malmö, Sweden with her husband and two children, Astrid brings a rich tapestry of experiences to her writing. Not only is she a gifted storyteller, weaving tales that often reflect her background in social anthropology and her passion for folklore and mythology, but she's also a certified transformational life coach.



Astrid VJ, a smiling woman with long brown hair standing under cherry blossoms

In her enchanting fairy tale fantasy novels, Astrid explores profound themes like living a good life, the significance of family, and the essence of having a social conscience. Her books are a blend of the magical and the insightful, designed to inspire and empower readers of all ages. Whether it’s through young adult fiction or intricate fantasy worlds, her stories resonate with depth and imagination. Astrid, it's an absolute pleasure to have you with us today!


Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars, but only the Lucas Film original set of 6 movies. Almost everything that’s come out of the Disney acquisition has made me want to cry and rant and cry some more.


Reboots – a great idea or a lack of creativity?

They can be fun, but I prefer to treat them as I do fan fiction. They are a fun escape, sometimes an amusing and nostalgic return to something linked to my youth, but in most cases it’s not something I’m going to invest a lot of energy in. At times I’ll be pleasantly surprised when a really good one comes out, but most of the time I’m okay with just passing the time, rather than placing a whole lot of expectation on it.


A book you’re looking forward to release (by someone else)?

I’m honestly hard pressed to think of only one. There are several books coming out soon that I have been waiting for with bated breath.

Stars May Burn by Alice Ivinya has had me like a wild horse gnashing at the bit ever since the author announced it. I’m so relieved the ARC will be sent to me very soon, because I honestly cannot bear to wait all the way to 7 June for it. I’ve loved everything this author has ever published, so I’m totally excited to once again get my “Alice fix”.

Kingdom of Spirits by Alisha Klapheke skyrocketed to my urgently needed list as soon as I finished Bound by Dragons, the first book in the series. Thankfully, I was also able to get onto the author’s ARC team at the last minute, so I’ll actually get to read it before the release scheduled for May 30.

There are loads more, but these are the two at the forefront of my mind at the moment.


The cover of Tales of Ancient Haldria by Astrid VJ

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

I started writing when I was twelve, and that first project was immense, with hours spent on the worldbuiling and side-adventures down the never-ending rabbit warren of research. To date, I have not yet finished that very first story idea, although it’s taken shape as I’ve matured and will hopefully become a reality as a quintet in the near(ish) future.

My first completed novel is The Siblings’ Tale, which I first envisioned at fifteen and wrote over five weeks in the summer I was nineteen. It’s also the first book I published, so has a very special place in my heart.


What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

Just after publishing my first novel, I attended a certification training to become a transformational life coach. During the final days of the training, the penny dropped. All my (at the time) writing dabbling and the one novel I’d finished writing at the time, had elements of our human capacity to transform our lives embedded in them. After that major “aha” moment, I started deliberately infusing my writing with this focus and found the common element that binds all my work together even though they might diverge on subgenre and target readership. To me, our capacity to face adversity and strive for success no matter how many times we might stumble or fail, is the foundation of the journeys all my characters take.


Elisabeth & Edvard's world - four books covers by Astrid VJ

Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?

Early on in my publishing adventures, someone told me that “you write for yourself, and edit for your reader.” This proved to be invaluable advice and something that’s helped me easily switch between the writer and editor hats that are required in the process of creating a publishable book. It allows me the freedom to just write and get the story out as it wants to be told, and also be 100% true to myself in that writing process. Once the first draft is out, I consider the subgenre, my target market, and other similar stories I’ve read and do a round of self-editing accordingly. I think it’s definitely helped me to maintain my unique style while also framing my work better so it will resonate better with the target audience, something I wasn’t very good at in the beginning. So, I suppose the suggestion here is to find the balance between doing what you want, and what pleases you as the writer, while also taking into consideration reader expectations.


What do you think makes a good story?

Heart. When the writer is fully invested in the story they are conveying, and truly believe what they have to say with it, then it resonates. To me, the stories that fall flat tend to be the ones where money, success, or glory were the main goal of the writer, rather than sharing a story from the heart.


The cover of The Siblings' Tale "Ella Enchanged meets Pride and Prejudice in this lesser-known fairy tale retold

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

I have had the good fortune of several readers reaching out to share their experiences with my stories. All of those who have reached out directly have shared touching stories about how my book(s) has/have helped them reframe something within their own lives. The most empowering and impactful feedback I ever received was from a reader who, in their review, admitted my novella had helped them overcome depression. To have uplifted a person to this degree and to have been able to change a life for the better makes it all worthwhile. It gives me the strength to keep going, because that one ripple is worth all of the rest of the struggle.

That said, I am also grateful for readers who have reached out either through reviews or on social media to share negative feedback. In several cases, I learned a lot from it and it even helped me improve things in later writing.


Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?

As a reader, I do not like long series that never seem to end. I gave up on The Wheel of Time series because by the time I got halfway through, I couldn’t remember what had happened for most of the series up to that point. For this reason, I write mostly standalones or contained series in trilogies or quartets. However, three of my series interconnect as they span the history of my world over more than 2500 years. Once I complete my very first series, it will all connect up over multiple millennia more, which I find a lot of fun. Many readers have reached out to share how much they enjoy the gradual increase in knowledge so that with each self-contained story, they learn another puzzle piece that makes the bigger picture more intriguing.

All of this started when I had a fairytale retelling that had the first half of the story, which is my invented backstory, written in first person, while the second part, the actual retelling, is in third person. To explain the shift in narrative voice, I drew on a character I’d already considered creating for a different series. Hence, Viola, the storyteller, finds an unfinished first-hand account (part 1) and then finishes the rest of the story based on the historical records she has at her disposal (part 2).

From there, as my body of work grew, and I wrote the other tales Viola and her apprentice tell as they travel the Haldrian Empire, I realized the following:

My retellings of lesser-known fairytales are the distant history of the planet, while my invented fairytales in The Wordmage’s Tales series are the more recent history, and the stories about Viola and her apprentice, Jo, from The Wishmaster series fall into the “present”.


The covers of the Wishmaster books by Astrid VJ

Do you write novels, novellas, short stories, episodic fiction, poems, screenplays, or something else? What is your preferred format?

I write them all, and love the diversity each different format offers me. I’ve written novel-length and short-story retellings of lesser-known fairytales set in the same world. In fact, I am in the process of pulling together all my short stories which have mostly been published in charity anthologies so that I can create a single volume with all my short stories that interconnect with my novel-length fairytale retellings in some way. The Tales of Ancient Haldria will form part of my upcoming Kickstarter campaign, launching at the end of May.

The Wordmage’s Tales collection of invented fairytales, each with a strong transformational message, are all novellas, while my other works are full-length novels.


Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. For example, The Siblings’ Tale first sparked when I read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson-Levine. While I loved the story and how everything was put together, I was really disappointed that it was a Cinderella retelling. The disappointment pushed me to want to write retellings of lesser-known fairytales.

Additionally, my personal experiences have been very powerful elements in my writing. Growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa and my dissatisfaction with the fantasy novels I had access to at the time is what propelled me to start writing diverse fantasy because I wanted to read fantasy novels that reflected the world around me. My Bavarian heritage, and the vacations my family spent in the Bavarian Alps heavily influenced the setting for my world, while attending a German foreign school in South Africa also has had influences on the topics I find most important, and which have foun their way into stories like The Siblings’ Tale.


What does your family think of your writing?

I have been blessed with a very encouraging family and circle of friends. I never cease to be amazed by how supportive everyone is of my personal desire to write and publish my books. My husband, mother, and sisters are my go-to alpha readers, and I truly lucked out since they all love to read fantasy and actually tell me the brutal truth, so I can improve my writing. I’m still overwhelmed every time I visit my aunt, who doesn’t really read fantasy, and whose first language isn’t English, but who owns physical copies of most of my books and has reviewed all of those. I sneak them off her bookshelf and sign the new copies she’s got every time I visit because that’s the least I can do to say thank you.


Some of the books by Astrid VJ

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I had the good fortune of getting together with two fabulous groups of fantasy authors in collaborative projects. Over the years, working together with many of these people on charity anthologies where we actively beta read each others’ works, and closely support each other in the writing process has helped me gain so much more knowledge. I’m also blown away by the creativity of all of these amazing authors.

The anthology series’ we’ve worked on together are:

The Enchanted Anthologies, a series of four collections so far, each in support of a different environmental cause. Enchanted Waters raises funds for Oceana and supports their mission to make fishing sustainable. The profits from Enchanted Forests are donated to Rainforest Foundation to support rainforest conservation and the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. Enchanted Flames supports the World Land Trust’s Wildfire Appeal to support communities endangered by wildfires. Enchanted Skies releases on May 24 and will be donating all proceeds to the Red Cross’s Hurricane Relief fund. We’ve had so much fun working together on these four anthologies, that we’ve already started planning Enchanted Caves to release in May 2025 and to support cave ecology although we haven’t yet chosen a charity for that.

Through this amazing group project, I’ve become friends with and learned so much from Alice Ivinya, Lyndsey Hall, Elena Shelest, Sky Sommers, Susan Stradiotto, Xander Cross, Donna White, NDT Casale, Ashley Steffenson, Rashmi Menon, and Ben Lang. It’s truly been an honour to work with all these amazing authors and to be able to support so many causes that are important to me.

The second series, is the What’s in a Name series, which started off on a dare. Lyndsey Hall posted a fantasy name generator as part of a game during a takeover party in my Facebook group, and Sky Sommers challenged us to actually write short stories using the character name and story prompt we received. Once Upon a Name was published one year later and features twenty amazing YA fantasy stories. I didn’t participate in that first anthology, but when the group decided that a second volume was needed, I agreed to join, and have stories in Twice Upon a Name and Third Name’s A Charm. And we’re not stopping there. We just agreed that the fourth book will be Four Names of Fortune, and is due to release in April 2025. All proceeds of these anthologies go to various charities that support global literacy.

All in all, the group projects where I get to interact with other authors more closely, learn from them, and offer them feedback for their stories, makes my writing life very social. I find many authors are very alone with their writing and only socialize with the marketing, but interactive group projects like these are a whole other kettle of fish, and can be truly wonderful experiences. Working together for charity is also a really wonderful and empowering activity.



Some of the books by Astrid VJ

 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Chill. Be kind to yourself. I’ve always been very hard on myself, and very impatient with myself. I’ve had to learn to go with the flow, accept when I make a mistake and do better with the next attmept, and find the sweet spot that is “good enough” because perfection is impossible. It took almost burning out to realise that how I treated myself was not healthy, and that I needed to shift my perspective to first take care of myself, try to be my best self every day, so that I could then be there for, and take care of my family and others around me.

Also, in terms of writing specifically, my younger self always said that I’d just write for myself and never pursue publishing. Well, I’ve had so much fun, and learned so much, that I can definitely say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

Terry Pratchett. As a teen, when I first read one of his books, I rolled my eyes and didn’t think it very funny. At the time, I was far more interested in the humour of Robert Rankin, while Pratchett’s writing just didn’t do it for me at all. Well, I recently picked up Going Postal, and laughed so hard and so long, I’ve been completely reformed. I was clearly too young and hadn’t enough life experience for Pratchett’s humour to click for me, and now it does I’m most definitely converted.


What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

While I was still living in South Africa, I had the opportunity to go to Hogsback, which is the town that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Rivendell. It was one of the most magical experiences ever, because it is really one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been to, and has that incredible, calming vibe of an elven home. Truly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, and all because of a book I loved.

 


Some of the books by Astrid VJ

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I have published 6 novels, 10 novellas, and 7 short stories, and I have drafted another two novels. In my head, I have story material for 9 more novels, at least 3 short stories, and 5 more novellas. Of those, I’m planning to publish 5 novels, 2 novellas and 2 short stories by the end of 2025.

As for favourites, that’s impossible. Each of my characters has a special place in my heart, and their adventures have all helped me grow and expand, not only as a writer but also as a person. So, I cannot possibly choose a favourite.

 

What do you have coming next?

In May, I am celebrating five years since I published my first book. This time of year always makes me so grateful for everything I’ve achieved so far and all the amazing people I’ve come into contact with because of this journey.



A woman sitting on a branch, a ball of magic in her hand, the cover to The Siblings' Tale by Astrid VJ

This year, to celebrate half a decade as a published writer, I’m running my first-ever Kickstarter campaign. The main goal is to a) re-publish The Siblings’ Tale as a single volume, as I’ve found many people read the first part, which is my invented backstory, and ended up missing out on the fairytale retelling. Since I originally wanted to write the book to counter the plethora of Cinderella retellings out there, this seemed completely counter to my original purpose. When I first wrote the story, it was envisioned as a single volume, so I’m taking the opportunity to create a new version with a new cover and where the writing is updated to better reflect my style now it’s evolved over the past 5 years. And b) to get all the books in this series out in hardcover format, since I’ve always wanted to make my books available in this format, but never had the spare funds to get the covers prepared for the hardcover format.

Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve also put together all my short stories into a single volume The Tales of Ancient Haldria, which will be available through my Kickstarter for the very first time.

Some of the exciting stretch goals I’m hoping to reach with this campaign are illustrations for each of the novels in the series as well as detailed maps. My illustrator has already begun work on animal art, one piece for each book. The stag from The Siblings’ Tale turned out absolutely stunning and I’m so excited for the other animals, a phoenix, a unicorn, and three magical dogs.

For those interested, the Kickstarter campaign will be live from 24 May – 23 June.


A stag leaping through a forest background


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